No George, no

Volkswagen’s rigging of its pollution tests is an assault on our lungs, our hearts and our brains. It is a classic example of externalisation: the dumping of costs that businesses should carry onto other people.

It is the users of the cars who should be carrying the costs, not the businesses. It is me washing my clothes which uses electricity, not NPower making it. It is me driving to the shops that produces emissions, not VW who made the car.

The air that should have been filtered by its engines is filtered by our lungs instead. We have become the scrubbing devices it failed to install.

You don’t scrub NOX. You don’t produce it in the first place by having a less efficient burn in the engine. Using, therefore, more fuel. That is the cost that is not being bourne and it’s the people driving the cars that would carry it, not VW.

What?

The only concrete plan the government has produced so far is to intensify the problem, through a new programme of airport expansion. This only means more nitrous oxides, more particulates, more greenhouse gas emissions.

Jet engine NOX and particularate emissions are very low. Meaning that replacing car journeys with plane journeys lowers them overall…..

65 thoughts on “No George, no”

  1. What VW did was deceitful. However, no one has died because of it. In a sane world, VW would receive a slap on the wrist, a reasonable fine and the CEO would resign.

    I think the DOJ and the EPA are going to try and push for an overly punitive fine complete with a non-disclosure agreement, which is their normal modus operandi when dealing with companies, especially foreign ones.

  2. I’m wondering what the recall is for:

    “Hey, we need your car back because we fiddled the tests. We’ll give it back to you in a couple of weeks, missing 30-40 BHP.”

  3. And after the first batch of recalls, when word gets around that MPG has dropped noticeably, it will be interesting to see the numbers of people that choose to ignore the recall.

    Emissions vs fuel efficiency? Preferences revealed again!

  4. @abacab

    Because the high MPG diesels were developed for the European markets that didn’t have the more stringent NOX requirements. US automakers didn’t bother developing high MPG diesels because they wouldn’t comply with US emissions regs.

  5. I am very suspicious about this whole story. The current CEO had a fight with the family Porche 5 months ago, it looks like he will loose his job before the end of the week.

    Then Porche takes over and we hear that this was not such a big issue?

  6. The irritating Harry’s Last Stand has tweeted on this:

    Harry Leslie Smith ‏@Harryslaststand 20 hrs20 hours ago
    #Volkswagen another fine example of how unfettered capitalism will destroy civilisation unless we stop them through real corp regs & taxes

    Off topic, I wonder what he was flying during WW2. A desk? A mop and bucket?

  7. I guess ol’ Harry is the exception to the rule that as you grow older, you get wiser.

    Who does he think pays the costs of meeting these stringent regulations? It’s not going to be anyone but the consumer, is it?

  8. @Andrew K

    I wonder whether Mr. Smith can remind us what the emissions regulations were for cars in Actually Existing Socialist Countries …

  9. Volkswagen’s excellent motor vehicles fail to meet arbitrary emission standard pulled out of some communist’s arse.

    Is how I see it.

  10. Tim said:

    Jet engine NOX and particularate emissions are very low. Meaning that replacing car journeys with plane journeys lowers them overall…..

    Or replace car engines with jet engines.

  11. Yes, we could install gas turbine engines as used in some tanks. The fuel economy might be an issue though.

    On the bright side, they will run on just about anything that burns.

  12. And it would be very satisfying to light the afterburners whenever some twat in a BMW is 6 inches from my rear bumper 🙂

  13. Always a trade off. Always a trade off. Always a trade off.

    We need to keep sounding like a broken record to stop the pseudo-Marxists blaming capitalism as the cause of current facts of engineering and economics (emphasis on current).

    It’s people like Harry who threaten civilisation with idiotic confusions around tech and cost. These people want economic growth, a bigger welfare bill but not want the cost of building things like new airports that help that growth and pay for their welfare state. Those people in charge would see the lights go out very quickly if they were in charge

  14. Shouldn’t someone remind moonbat that the reason that so many cars have diesel engines is because of green pressure, exerted through government, to reduce CO2 emissions, all in the name of the great Global Warming fraud?

  15. You are quite right, RlJ. Man survived nicely for decades with diesel cars clattering around before the arbitrary NOx standards were issued.

    I hold no brief against VW at all. Shitty government begets shitty behavior.

  16. My hunch is that it will emerge that the German government and EU Commission knew what VW were doing and turned a blind eye.

  17. I also see that reports are stating that the falsification issue will extend to petrol engines as well as other manufacturers diesels.

    I think what we are seeing is increasingly insane regulatory requirements running into reality (as defined by consumers preferences expressed via the market)

    This has the potential for a popcorn-futures busting collision between bien pensant moralising and the real world on a scale not seen since Leveson.

    I fully expect this to form a policy centre piece of Jezza’s party conference speech

  18. Salamander,

    > However, no one has died because of it.

    NOx damages lungs, worsens respiratory diseases, combines with other chemicals to create various toxins, and can kill. So I have to ask: are you an epidemiologist? Or are you just guessing?

    It also causes acid rain.

    I’m one of those people who thinks the modern obsession with CO2 as a “pollutant” is absurd. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t care about pollutants. Acid rain and lung-destruction are the sort of real immediate known dangers we should be giving a shit about. VW have cheated one of the sensible regulations, not the crazy ones.

    Hilariously, though, NOx apparently causes global cooling. Someone should tell Monbiot.

  19. “NOx damages lungs, …”: I can believe that list without being required to believe the claim that VW have killed eight thousand people or eight million. Most epidemiological claims in my lifetime may well have been false or exaggerated. You only have to compare the correct fuss made about smoking with the dubious fuss about passive smoking to see that it’s mad just to accept some number that’s tossed around.

  20. It’ll be interesting to see what the French do here. They were early pioneers of the diesel engine and hence today most cars in France are diesels, with petrols being pretty rare. The French refineries are set up to supply diesel, and it retails at about 20 cents cheaper than petrol.

    What is most surprising about all of this is that it is the Germans, of all people, who knowingly broke the rules. Had it been the French, nobody would have batted an eyelid. In fact, I suspect the French are currently shaking their heads at the stupidity of the Germans for admitting error instead of brazenly denying it and obfuscating for all its worth, ending with a Gallic shrug and look of utter non-concern when the Americans say “we don’t believe you.”

  21. Whatever happened to the Acid Rain scare anyway? Rainwater is still acidic as far as I know. I guess it got supplanted by global warming and the public can only handle one environmental bogeyman at a time.

  22. dearieme,

    > I can believe that list without being required to believe the claim that VW have killed eight thousand people or eight million.

    Has anyone other than you brought up those figures?

    I was responding to the specific claim that VW’s actions have killed zero people and the implication that that is obvious. Given that NOx is actually toxic and dangerous, I don’t think that is obvious.

    > Most epidemiological claims in my lifetime may well have been false or exaggerated. You only have to compare the correct fuss made about smoking with the dubious fuss about passive smoking to see that it’s mad just to accept some number that’s tossed around.

    Yes, but the fuss about passive smoking comes from campaigners. Richard Peto, arguably the world’s leading expert on the epidemiology of smoking, says that the risk from passive smoking is “unlikely to be large” and has repeatedly refused to recommend a smoking ban.

    http://www.bmj.com/rapid-response/2011/10/31/professor-sir-richard-peto-and-house-lords

    I don’t think you can write off the whole of epidemiology on the basis of a couple of ideologues.

  23. “Given that NOx is actually toxic”: bloody hell, almost everything is toxic. The poison is in the dose. Is the NOx dose high enough to kill people in large numbers? Dunno. It may be that nobody knows. The fact that public science shouts about it isn’t much of a reason to believe it. I’ve said before that 30 years ago when I first learnt how dangerous the particulates from diesel could be I was struck that little had been made of the problem presumably because it wasn’t sexy enough. But as for NOx: dunno. I do know that in those 30 years I’ve been increasingly horrified by how packs of lies have been passed off as science.

  24. Jerry,

    Not an expert, but my understanding is that rain is nothing like as acidic as it used to be in the Developed World because we don’t burn so much coal any more. It was sulphur dioxide that was the big cause.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acid_rain#Prevention_methods

    We’re cutting the amount of sulphur from coal-burning power stations by 95%, apparently. Which is great.

    According to that Wikipedia piece, the NOx emissions controls that VW have cheated here are specifically part of the acid rain reduction laws. So they’re to protect trees, not human lungs. Should be pointed out, though, that increases in acid rain cause greater numbers of avalanches, so, again, there may be deaths and injuries attributable. How many people get caught in avalanches every year? Is that a big thing, or are we talking about maybe three people?

    Tim,

    Agreed. This may be the least German thing the Germans have ever done.

  25. “What is most surprising about all of this is that it is the Germans, of all people, who knowingly broke the rules.”

    The Germans are ruthless in pursuit of their own economic interests, so perhaps not so surprising. And I would not be surprised at all if it emerges that the German government (‘What’s good for VW is good for Germany’?) and the mercantilist EU Commission (‘What’s good for Germany is good for the EU’?) have turned a blind eye. Next stop, Peugeot…?

  26. S2

    “This may be the least German thing the Germans have ever done.”

    The idea that the Germans play by the rules is a bit of a myth. Until recently, any bribes German firms paid to non-EU clients were tax deductible, IIRC. The Germans like to impose rules on themselves and on others, but they don’t like others imposing rules on them. Which is why the UK should leave the EU before it becomes the Fourth Reich.

  27. > bloody hell, almost everything is toxic. The poison is in the dose.

    Yes, and? That means we may never have any restrictions on anything, does it?

    > The fact that public science shouts about it …

    Does it? Where?

    Although it is known that NOx is dangerous to lungs, the purpose of the NOx regulations is to reduce acid rain. The relevant amounts of gas in the atmosphere have been quite well studied, I believe. The chemical reactions are known. And we’ve had the regulations for long enough to observe actual effects.

    > Is the NOx dose high enough to kill people in large numbers? Dunno. It may be that nobody knows.

    My point. Thank you.

  28. I’ve been trying to find out the actual emissions regs for Europe and the USA and reached a bit of a stumbling block. The regulations don’t seem to be that far apart.

    EPA emissions standards. 0.4 or 0.2 g/mile of NOx.

    European emissions standards Euro V is about 0.3 g/mile.

    I’m guessing that what VW were doing was setting up the cars to be either efficient or clean, with the engine management being clever enough to determine when each setting was appropriate. In controlled conditions it will go for cleanest emissions it can without failing on CO2 levels, and on the road it will go for fuel efficiency without a care to NOx levels. It will be the having two distinct modes that makes it a ‘defeat device’.

    The news is a bit light on detail though. I’d be looking at the exhaust gas recirculation system. Used to keep engine temps from getting too high and causing NOx formation it also reduces fuel efficiency.

  29. SBML,

    From your own link:

    There is no question that Acid Rain occurred in concentrations sufficient to destroy plants. I lived in Sudbury Ontario for a year, with its smoke stack, identified as the source of 10 percent of North American Acid Rain, and saw the effects.

  30. @ Squander Two
    The main cause of acid rain is sulphuric acid resulting from burning coal with a sulphur content (as the CEGB did until it was privatised and suddenly we got regulations about SO2 and SO£ emissions).

  31. The Guardian have crunched the numbers.

    A Guardian analysis found those US vehicles would have spewed between 10,392 and 41,571 tonnes of toxic gas into the air each year, if they had covered the average annual US mileage. If they had complied with EPA standards, they would have emitted just 1,039 tonnes of NOx each year in total.

    The company admitted the device may have been fitted to 11m of its vehicles worldwide. If that proves correct, VW’s defective vehicles could be responsible for between 237,161 and 948,691 tonnes of NOx emissions each year, 10 to 40 times the pollution standard for new models in the US. Western Europe’s biggest power station, Drax in the UK, emits 39,000 tonnes of NOx each year.

    This is not negligible.

    And we do already know that diesel fumes contribute to a large and reasonably estimated number of premature deaths, so such large numbers are going to have had a measurable effect.

    (I know, I know: it’s The Guardian. But, whilst their non-science reporters are crap at numbers, their science reporters are pretty good at them. Point out a mistake in the maths if you can see one.)

  32. 77,

    > The main cause of acid rain is sulphuric acid resulting from burning coal with a sulphur content

    Yes, that is the main cause. NOx is apparently the other not-so-main cause.

  33. John77:

    Sulphurous acid – H2SO3 – not Sulphuric acid, which is H2SO4. The former is – like carbonic acid, H2CO3 – a weak and unstable acid, unlike the latter.

  34. I await the US instigating a foxhunt of lawyers, govt departments, actions under penal legislation and individual and corporate claimants against VW on the scale of that against BP.

    We’ll see then if Germany really has supplanted the UK in the special relationship where we get fvcked up the jacksie by them while they get to walk all over us.

  35. If your had looked at the paint work on cars parked at a large steel works in the 70’s then you would have no issues with acknowledging pollution and acid rain effect.
    Thankfully emissions standards (and paint quality) have improved. Apparently when emissions standards were bought in they pretty much said to the regulators we work to our own timetable to meet them or feel free to put thousands out of work.

  36. H2O + SO2 = H2SO3
    Sulphurous acid occurs when SO2 is dissolved in water. It is weak and unstable; and it is part of ‘acid rain’. H2SO4, sulphuric acid, does not occur readily on earth: it needs to be manufactured.

  37. BniC

    “and paint quality”…?

    Water-based paints, as dictated by the EU, are much softer and more liable to scratch in my experience. Even on my Audi.

  38. The Germans are ruthless in pursuit of their own economic interests, so perhaps not so surprising. And I would not be surprised at all if it emerges that the German government (‘What’s good for VW is good for Germany’?) and the mercantilist EU Commission (‘What’s good for Germany is good for the EU’?) have turned a blind eye. Next stop, Peugeot…?

    Indeed.

  39. If Squander Two isn’t familiar with numbers of deaths being tossed around he might try the Tox Dadger: “research this year linked high levels of NOx to 9,500 premature deaths annually in London alone”. Obviously my 8000 was a bit low as an estimate of an iffy estimate. How do I know that the Tox Dadger’s 9,500 is iffy? The dreaded “linked” carries that implication.

    As for acid rain, the part of the argument that turned out to be bogus was the claim that acid rain originating in Britain was killing forests in Germany and Scandinavia. That proved to be bollocks.

  40. @ S2
    Apologies, I should have said sulphurous – I couldn’t quite remember so I reckoned that if the desulphurisation modules attached to exhausts from Drax and ICI’s sulphuric acid plant both generated gypsum it was probably H2SO4.
    Incidentally your quote illustrates the casual dishonesty of the Grauniad – Drax is the only large-scale coal-fired plant in the Uk with a desulphurisation module, so its emissions are a fraction of other large coal-fired plants.

  41. Gamecock, NOx usually means NO, and NO2, both of which are relatively corrosive and harmful. They are the major colourant one can see in smog clouds where vehicles are the major contributor to smog (like in LA of old, Denver, and other similar places), giving a distinct darkish brown tint.

    On the other hand “laughing gas” is N2O, colourless and can actually act as an Oxygen substitute. Not especially toxic and not formed in vehicle exhausts either.

    Interesting question, diesel is considerably denser than petrol, in fact I think that vehicles get equivalent mileage per Kg of fuel from either diesel or petrol whereas one gets considerably better mileage per litre on diesel. Given that the carbon content of fuel correlates better to weight than to volume (it’s all a mixture of CH bonded compounds) why is the CO2 put put of diesels considered to be so much better than that for petrol ? I would have thought that burning 1 Kg of diesel would produce about the same CO2 output as burning 1 Kg of petrol.

  42. Some order of magnitude stuff: NO has a molecular weight of 30g·mol⁻¹, NO₂ 46g·mol⁻¹. A mole of gas at STP is about 22 litres, or 44 mol·m⁻³. So a cubic metre of nitrogen dioxide is about 2kg. Five hundred cubic metres, or a ton of nitrogen dioxide, is of the order of the volume occupied by a small house.

    OK, let’s say VW’s shonky cars put out a million tons of NOx that they shouldn’t have. What did this do to the concentration of NOx in locations where people were breathing it? What are the health ramifications of that? Did it contribute to acid rain etc.? It should be noted that the enormous, expensive and comprehensive NAPAP project found the link between pollution and acid rain to be greatly overblown.

  43. Yes, we could install gas turbine engines as used in some tanks. The fuel economy might be an issue though.

    Chrysler had a limited run of turbine cars on the road in the 60s, which they lent to random American families. Drivers reported the fuel economy and performance were similar to a V8 of the period, and they’d be better with modern ECUs. Even if the fuel economy was worse, they could run on just about anything that would burn (except leaded petrol, as the lead interfered with the engine somehow). So just put some cheap crap in there, instead of expensive petrol or tequila.

    They were never sold to the public because… every time Chrysler got them to meet the NOx emissions target, the US government introduced a tighter one. They beat all the other emissions regulations that piston engines were struggling to meet. So, thanks to ’emissions’, most of the West is still reliant on foreign oil supplies for transport fuel, as we were in the 70s.

    Just another example of why letting politicians design cars is a really, really bad idea.

  44. This is not negligible.

    Actually, it pays to check these things.

    Weight of atmosphere = 5 x 10^18 kg.

    USA is 10,000,000 km^2 out of 500,000,000, so 1/50.

    That means that they get 10^17 kg of air as their share.

    Adding 10,000 tons of NOx is 10^7 kg.

    So they added 0.00000001% to their air in NOx, assuming that it has a long reside time — which it doesn’t since they are extremely water soluble (hence acid rain).

    I’m going for negligible, but your mileage may vary.

    This is the problem with big scary numbers like 10,000 tons. It seems so big, but only because people don’t work it through.

    If every single extra atom of NOx out of 10,000 tons ended up in a person in the USA — which is clearly a ludicrous assumption — they would all absorb 50 g each a year.

    In practice even if all cars were to run like this, we’re talking maybe a milligram extra per person per year.

  45. Harry Leslie Smith ‏@Harryslaststand 20 hrs20 hours ago
    #Volkswagen another fine example of how unfettered capitalism will destroy civilisation unless we stop them through real corp regs & taxes.

    And yet it is the capitalist countries that enact these laws, not the non-capitalist ones. And it is capitalist countries that catch them (a swift bribe could have made this go away in some places).

  46. Another part of the problem here is that the emissions standards are starting to run up against the laws of physics given the real-world constraints on use of a vehicle.

  47. The federal tyranny is anti-business and any standards they set reflect that. Claims of how they are “saving” the world are a pack of watermelon lies.

    It is nice to see a company moving to give the fedscum the finger. If the German state had any balls they would inform the federal tyranny that they will not lay a finger on single employee of the company and no money will be paid to anyone. And announce that Germany is to start its own H bomb program. That should sort it.

  48. Reading a bit more about the testing that kicked this off has raised more questions than answers for me. 3 cars – a VW Jetta, a VW Passat and a BMW X5 – were tested on a variety of routes. All three were diesel. The Jetta had a lean NOx trap, the Passat and the X5 had urea injection based NOx devices.

    The BMW met NOx emissions standards most of the time. The two VWs failed the emissions standards by quite a margin despite both having some form of NOx treatment device. If BMW can do it I am having problems understanding why VW couldn’t. Too fixated on the testing regime?

    As to the danger of diesel emissions in general I am wary of accepting the claims. If the EPA can think it acceptable to fund human experiments involving ill people breathing in exhaust gases then the risk must really be quite low.

  49. 77,

    > your quote illustrates the casual dishonesty of the Grauniad – Drax is the only large-scale coal-fired plant in the Uk with a desulphurisation module

    Very interesting, thank you. Bastards.

    Chester,

    > Weight of atmosphere = 5 x 10^18 kg.
    > USA is 10,000,000 km^2 out of 500,000,000, so 1/50.

    Who cares? Pollution isn’t spread out thinly across the whole world. It is concentrated in certain areas. You may as well pump sewage onto beaches because look how big the ocean is. In fact, considering that some NOx ends up in water, why have you stopped at just the weight of the atmosphere? You should take the weight of the oceans into account, surely.

    The NOx regulations concern the concentration of NOx allowed in emissions, not the total amount in the atmosphere as a whole. The amount by which VW have breached those regulations is far from negligible.

  50. When I last bought a new car it did not have a spare wheel, just one of those sealing liquid and pump sets. The salesman told me that having the weight of a spare wheel would push emissions into the next band. Nothing stopped me getting a spare wheel separately (or, indeed adding more weight such as getting in to drive it or filling it with fuel) yet I continued paying the road tax rate of the “unladen” vehicle.

    How this is any different escapes me, the fact that VWs can lower emissions by fiddling the configuration is neither here nor there, the testing never realizes the actual emissions of the vehicle under normal road use. If the switch was on the console under the control of the driver you’d bet it would be glued into to “higher performance, better economy” setting all the time (part from when it is taken to emissions testing). Emissions (and fuel use) can be lowered by restricting RPMs with shorter gear changes, but you’ll annoy the hell out of anyone following you from the lights.

    NOx is predominately generated by soil management (agriculture) rather than vehicle diesel engines, it lasts around 14 years in the atmosphere and its effect as a greenhouse gas is 300 times more than CO2.

  51. And here’s one for the whole USA, again showing significant reductions since 2000, at the 98th percentile level.

  52. diogenes,

    Those are interesting links. The general tone of the media coverage around the VW emissions thing is twofold – that tighter regulations hasn’t got NOx levels down and that the VW scandal explains why. Yet those observations of NOx levels show clear reductions despite the uptake of diesels in a big way.

    The mood is one of building up a head of steam to penalise diesels for what appears to be an urban problem, and could well be due to public transport as much as private vehicles.

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